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How to fish for crappie vertically over cover

Learn to locate crappie-holding cover and the best techniques for making those fish bite.

Crappie are interesting little fish who bundle up tightly around cover in the coldest parts of the year, making them easy to locate using your graph. But how do you fish for crappie vertically? From technique to equipment, I’ll tell you how, with four helpful steps from start to finish in this blog!

1. Locating cover

This is by far the most important part of learning how to fish for crappie vertically and seems pretty simple. But, it’s not! Crappie tend to look for certain types of cover, be it free standing timber you can visibly see, or brush that has been placed in depth zones by other fishermen. The easiest finds are obvious trees sticking out of the water in the right depths. Typically, crappie dwell in the 10-20 foot range in the winter, so finding timber that exists in that zone can be very productive. The hardest kind of timber to find is sunken timber or brush piles. For these you need to use the electronics on your boat. Preferably structure scan, but regular sonar can find brush piles as well. The best places to check for sunken brush are off the edges of points, flats, or near boat docks. Identifying crappie on top of the brush is not always the easiest task, but they can be differentiated from most other fish. Crappie tend to bunch up tall on top of the brush or around it, so there will be several small dots tightly packed together.

2. Choosing the right equipment

Equipment for fishing vertically for crappie is pretty important because it is absolutely necessary to be as stealthy as possible. Choose the lightest line you can, such as 4-pound-test fluorocarbon, as to not provide any silhouette from a larger line because the bait will be sitting completely still in front of the crappie. Choose a shorter rod if possible, I consider a 6-foot light action rod to be about the biggest you want to pick up. The reason for this is you are dropping your lure straight down with this technique, and there isn’t any need for a long, cumbersome fishing rod. The third and most important part of fishing vertically for crappie is the jig and plastic to use! We won’t even mess around with multiple options here, but will simply lay out the top pick: the Bobby Garland Baby Shad and a 1/16-ounce Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle Jighead. This small shad bait is perfect for fishing vertically because it has action with even the slightest movement of the rod tip, and the 1/16-ounce jig head fits the body of the plastic perfectly. Choose colors that match forage in the winter. I have found that colors such as Threadfin Shad, Live Minnow, and Eclipse do excellent jobs in clear or stained water.

3. Holding steady

This might seem simple, but arguably it is the hardest part of the vertical fishing for crappie equation. Holding your boat steady is very integral to keep your lure in the strike zone near the cover you are fishing, because just blowing off a slight bit can mean missing the crappie entirely. The new wave of trolling motors with spot lock seem to be a cure all for this, but if you don’t have one there are a couple easy ways to manage. The first option is using a marker buoy, which I would recommend using no matter what technology you have! The Lindy Marker Buoys work excellently for this, and you simply find your piece of cover and drop the buoy down to mark your spot. This always allows you to stay right on the mark. The second option is to use an anchor system. An anchor can be purchased at about any sporting goods or tackle store and catches your boat, so you always stay in a general vicinity, but I also recommend using the buoy in conjunction with this. This step is very important because you want to remain steady on the cover to make the perfect presentation!

4. Technique

The fourth and final piece to the vertical fishing for crappie puzzle is a good solid technique. You might think it’s as simple as seeing some fish on the graph or a brush pile and dropping down a jig, but a lot of factors go into play to coax a bite! Factors include depth zones, behavior of the crappie, and the overall type of cover you are fishing. This is a stealthy type of fishing. As we mentioned earlier, you want to drop your jig down methodically to the depth zone at which you have identified crappie. Identifying that zone is as simple as seeing what depth you get bites. Start out by dropping near the bottom or cover and begin to slowly move up and hold in different zones until you get some bites. Crappie are funny. They like to bite only when the bait is presented a certain way to them. Behavior plays in huge with technique here because crappie sometimes want a bait sitting perfectly still, and other times, they want it shaking a little bit. This is another way you find behavior by action. I like to always start out with a completely steady bait, but if I don’t garner any bites, I will give it a little action as I go through depth zones picking up slack. Cover comes into play with technique when fishing different types of timber or structure such as docks. When fishing sunken brush piles vertically you want to ensure that you are hovering just over the pile on the initial drop, so you aren’t getting hung up, and then progress up the water columns. When fishing emergent timber, you have to allow time for your bait to sit at various levels, from the base to the top of the cover, to identify crappie holding points.

Crappie are fickle, but these four points will help you greatly when trying to fish for them vertically the next time you’re out this winter!

You can find all of the lures and accessories mentioned in this blog at

Gear List

Bobby Garland Baby Shad

Crappie Pro Sickle Jig Head

Lindy Marker Buoy